Today is a day of remembrance for 14 women who lost their lives in Canada’s worst school shooting 24 years ago on Dec 6, 1989. It is a day when the young engineering women students were separated from their colleagues and shot because of their gender. Many of their young engineering male colleagues who were ordered out of the classroom by the gunman had to endure the guilt of having lived. One of the young men sadly committed suicide because of his guilt and his parents subsequently committed suicide as they could not live without him according to CBC. Many others have dedicated their lives since that sad day to ending violence against women. We salute you and we do not forget and we will continue to work hard to make our world and schools a safer place. ….Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
As we draw to the close of November and American thanksgiving, we are nearing the sad anniversary date of Dec 14, 2012 where 26 innocents were shot for no apparent reason other than that of a seemingly very disturbed and angry young man as per the recent editorial in the LA times. As we respect the request of the community to quietly remember those innocents, let us not forget the 9,900 that have also perished in shootings according to the Huffington Post. This Dec 14th at 9:35 am, we will all quietly remember and continue in our resolve to make the innocents safer as we continue to focus on keeping others out of harm’s way. ….Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile.
The 10th and final means to ensure better school safety is to leverage technology where you can and make it fit into your emergency planning. As more and more students and faculty are walking around with mobile phones, you have the perfect mechanism to help keep them in the loop in critical situations. There are a myriad of technologies to choose from so it is important to look at your needs at the school to minimize your risks. If you have WiFi deployed, you can leverage that as all Smartphones today are deployed with WiFi. You can also leverage SMS, Email and Callouts to the phones. For the computers, laptops, ePads and electronic blackboards – you can leverage Pop-ups. You can also leverage access control systems to trigger lockdowns in the school when an active shooter is detected. Today’s world is very technologically rich in comparison to even 5 years ago – as such, we would likely save many lives if we leverage the technology properly. ….Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile www.amikamobile.com
A number of templates are available for Emergency Plans by searching the web and contacting organizations like DHS which dedicates resources and an entire area on their web site to School Safety. There are some basic rules of thumb when formulating emergency plans: 1) consult with your school district or board – there is likely a process and a template for a plan for your are; 2) put together a committee that would represent the leadership of the school, the security team at the school, the community, and first responders; 3) once you have formulated a plan, make sure you review it quarterly and every time there is an incident, to ensure that the plan meets your school’s needs and strengthen it where you can; 4) make sure your emergency plan has very clear evacuation paths in the case of emergencies and ensure that these are posted in all areas (classrooms, hallways, stairwells, etc.), 5) ensure your emergency plan has room to contact the parents and community nearby to make sure everyone is on the same page; 6) publicize your plan as a living document and disseminate it to those you believe should be aware of it and accept feedback as there may be things you missed. ….Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile www.amikamobile.com
As schools are heading out for the summer, it is a good idea to review school safety and carry out an audit of how safe the school is. There are a number of resources on the web such as this list from the Virginia School District and modified by the NY State Police. In the audit there are a number of areas to examine such as the exterior of the school and the play areas. Also important are the various zones such as the various entrances, the drop-off zones, etc. Another key area is the interior of the school and how all the windows and doors close and shut and those in the high risk areas (such as front office, main floor windows and doors, basement windows, back doors, etc.) can be secured or locked in an emergency. Another important area is the two-way communication between staff, the office and first responders for emergencies such as fires or attacks. Key is also alerting the student population and allowing 2-way communication with those in need as well as parents and the community. In addition, policies and procedures should be reviewed annually to ensure that they can be met and improved on based on the previous year. Finally, on-premise personnel and their training in life safety and security can be audited to ensure that the immediate response as the emergency arises before first responders get there is in line with the situation. … Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
According to research reports, nearly 80% of kids today carry a mobile phone. Having such a device may not have always been a great idea for schools, however, the reality of today is that most parents are insisting that their kids have a phone and be allowed to use it in an emergency. As such, if an emergency does happen in a school, there is a lot more than just the fire alarm and PA system to rely on. Even the WEA alerts from FEMA can be received in a weather-emergency affected area by enabled mobile phones. Some kids also carry a laptop or an ePad and many classrooms are equipped with computers and electronic blackboards. In a critical situation or emergency, all these devices can be alerted from 1 console with an alert that would Pop-up the information on the phones, computers, laptops, TV monitors in common areas, deliver text messages to the mobile phones, announce over the PA, etc. Amika Mobile has taken the approach to ensure that any and all devices be they wired or wireless be alerted in a true emergency by supporting 18 layers for those alerts. …Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
A key mechanism that can also be effective with isolation zones is locking down a room or set of rooms within an area that can be accessed from a hallway. This is important not only for schools but for any facility where someone from the public is likely to walk into the facility with a gun for whatever reason. There are many lockdown mechanisms on the market today for schools, hospitals, etc. As zones are separated to secure an area, the locks in the areas where people can be protected should be activated automatically to safeguard students or others in those rooms. Lockdowns need to be regularly practiced in all academic institutions. At the moment, they are regularly practiced in many schools (not all) but should be mandatory for all Universities and Colleges as well. …Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
As shootings continue across the globe and as we mark the anniversaries of these tragic events, it is important to think about better protecting the public as well as the kids who may suddenly find themselves in the crossfire. An important consideration is to ensure that there are zones isolation mechanisms to protect against shootings. This implies that in a school, the front area should be completely isolatable from the various classrooms. In another recent shooting at a daycare in Quebec, the shooter walked into the front office, shot at a target then walked into an adjacent classroom and shot an innocent teacher who was protecting the students. Had the front office been isolated from the classrooms, that teacher would still be alive today. …Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
As we ponder the tragedy at the Boston Marathon that includes loss of life and battlefield-type injuries with shrapnel at Copley Square, we must salute a city and its people known for their resilience, strength and acts of kindness towards each other. We salute you Boston and send our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the tragedy knowing that you will fight through this battle as you have many throughout history. ….Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile
An intruder in a school will typically enter through the main doors and find a place to hide – such as in the basement, a closet or even a bathroom. Many attacks on school children have resulted from an intruder somehow gaining access through the main, side or back door. This is one reason why there should be only one main entrance and the main entrance to a facility needs to be separated so that visitors and the reason for their entry to the school verified. Main entrances to most schools typically allow people to turn left, right, go straight or even go upstairs or downstairs. Such free access should only be granted to students and staff from the main entrance after they badge in. A main entrance in a secure facility would require visitors to be in a holding area before being allowed to roam after their identity and purpose for their visit is verified by security. Some schools now have metal detectors that their staff and students are required to pass through before entry. Others have access control badges.
A basic security and safety strategy is to always ensure a secure perimeter. What does this mean? It implies that any areas adjacent or near the school need to be fenced and secured. This does not have to be obtrusive. A chain link fence could secure the perimeter around the school and ensure that the school playground is within the perimeter keeping the kids safe within it. Additional technology like cameras would be useful to ensure that the area is monitored. Furthermore, if there is a danger of someone driving a car into the fence and hence into the school, then strategically placed concrete barriers would be a deterrent.
Many schools subscribe to the open door policy. While this is great in a society where children are not kidnapped or sometimes removed from school against their will, this is no longer a practical option. School shootings and violence are now prevalent in many schools all over the world. Schools where shootings are a regular occurrence as sadly they are in the US, access at various entrances should be controlled. Back doors in many schools are now locked and only opened from the inside. This is OK if no plan is afoot to let in an intruder or a shooter, but even this now needs to be controlled with access control technology. In some cases, this requires ID cards or badges and may soon be simplified with more RFID integration with mobile phones which are prevalent in the general population.
As I look at the data from Slate.com for 2013, I am astounded by how many shootings have occurred since the Newtown tragedy in the US. There have been 3,027 US deaths since Newtown due to shootings. As a specialist in the area of public safety and security, I thought it best to look at ways for schools to protect themselves. The first one is vigilance. According to a December 2012 report from the National School Boards Association NSBA.org, every classroom has 1 student with a mental health issue that requires some form of attention or treatment. Without vigilance to the issue of mental health that students face, school shootings are likely to continue. The report has many recommendations to assist schools and is well worth a review.
An area where there is a growing need is lockdowns. Sometimes, a shooter or danger exists in a facility and a lockdown needs to be initiated. It is important to ensure that the lockdown does not place more people in danger but not allowing them to get out of a fire or some other dangerous situation. However, in live shooter incidents, a lockdown can save many lives as long as the shooter is kept out of a full classroom or room full of possible victims. Tracking the shooter moving through the facility and then causing a lockdown that would block them from others would be ideal. This scenario is becoming more real with today’s physical system security systems integrated with event or rules-based logic that would allow an event to trigger a lockdown.
… Sue Abu-Hakima …CEO Amika Mobile
Another area I have written about in the past is the importance of 2-way communication over SMS, Email, Voice, etc. Sometimes in a critical or emergency situation, an alert recipient is in an area where they cannot get to safety. As such, it is very important to allow them to respond to the alert to get first responders to them.
… Sue Abu-Hakima …CEO Amika Mobile